22 SES 14 D, Non-traditional Students and Diversity
Current universities are places where increasing numbers of people, whose age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and life roles are more diverse than ever before meet (Fairchild, 2003). This situation was the impetus for the concept of nontraditional students (NTS), referring to underrepresented groups of people in tertiary education (Bron & Lönnheden, 2004). NTS may include students of advanced age, students disadvantaged by their socio-economic backgrounds (lower socio-economic status or ethnic minorities), people with health handicaps, students entering tertiary education as first in their families (Thunborg, Bron, & Endström, 2013) or women (Leathwood & O'Connell, 2003). The concept of NTS thus shows significant variation dependent on social, geographic and systemic context (Chung, Chur-Hansen, & Turnbull, 2014; Rosario, Pereira et al., 2014).
For the Czech Republic, where this research is being undertaken, the authors consider age and/or nontraditional study path as a key criterion for NTS definitions. CR is one of the four European countries with the lowest participation of adults in formal education (Adult Education Survey, 2016) as, for instance, in 2016, people aged 25–64 amounted to only 3 per cent of people participating in formal education. In this study, NTS are defined based on higher-than-usual age and regard as NTS adults who had left formal education, acquired significant life and work experience and then returned to formal education, i.e. to higher education (Schuetze & Slowey, 2002; Souto-Otero & Whitworth, 2017).
Even an NTS group defined in this way exhibits a high degree of heterogeneity while a big proportion of NTS research neglects the variability of life and career paths in the findings. However, the very consideration of this variability may allow us to better understand NTS and their needs and to increase the accuracy of the analysis. This paper therefore proposes an NTS typology and verifies it by a survey made on the population of Czech students in tertiary education.
The aim of this paper is therefore to present an NTS typology based on a finer categorization of nontraditional study paths. The paper will describe the individual NTS types (frequency, age, gender) and also show what characteristics (such as academic motivation, study engagement, perception of support by the university, studying approaches) differentiate them. The paper will thus indicate dealing with what issues should involve considerations of specific NTS types.
The proposed typology divides NTS study paths based on 3 principal criteria. The first criterion reflects when the break in formal education path occurred: whether it was immediately after the secondary-school-leaving exam (Delayers type), or whether the student entered university upon passing this exam. The second criterion reflects whether the student has or has not graduated from university in the past, allowing to distinguish between Returners (previous study was successful) and Second Chance Learners (previous study was unsuccessful). The third criterion takes into account focus on a specific field of study, i.e. whether the current study is in the same or similar field as the previous one (Upcyclers), or not (Rethinkers). These questions, providing a rough map of the timeline, success and field-of-study focus, leave us with five basic NTS types.
The typology will be verified for one specific NTS subgroup, namely NTS studying to obtain a degree in education. The reasons for choosing NTS studying for education degrees relate to the difficult situation in the internal labour market in the Czech education sector, namely the high proportion of unqualified staff working in schools and ageing workforce. The labour market in the educational segment needs newly qualified workforce. Supporting NTS studying for education degrees may be regarded as one of the ways to find a solution.
The paper was created as a part of a mixed-method research project Nontraditional students studying for education degrees in tertiary education within the Czech Republic, funded by the Czech Science Foundation. The method of collection of data for this paper is an online survey based on items proposed by the research team as well as scales taken over (De Vaus, 2013). To identify individual NTS type, we used a 10-item battery in which respondents are selecting from among varying numbers of variants. Some items are open for all respondents (such as: Have you studied in higher education ever before, i.e. before your current study?). Other items are made available depending on the previous answer (such as: Are you currently studying a field you have studied before?). The scales taken over provided us with tools used to describe the population of students in tertiary education; some of these are being used in the Czech environment for the first time. Student motivation is being measured by the Academic Motivation Scale (Vallerand, 1992), which distinguishes between three types of internal motivation, three types of external motivation, and amotivation. Studying approaches are measured using Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (ASSIST) (Biggs, 1987), which helps to distinguish between deep, surface, and strategic study approach. Study engagement is measured using a 14-item scale UWES-S (Schaufeli, Martinez, Pinto, Salanova, & Bakker; 2002) and perception of support on the part of university is measured by 5-item Student Support Scale and 5-item Learning Community Scale, both taken over from the Australian Course Experience Questionnaire (McInnis, Griffin, James, & Coates, 2001). The basic research population group consists of all NTS studying for education degree in the Czech Republic. All universities in the Czech Republic offering relevant study programmes were asked to distribute the questionnaire among all of their students. The questionnaire was distributed using the online platform Survio; a specific link to the questionnaire was generated for students of each university. The first wave of distribution left us with approximately 650 filled-in questionnaires. The basic analysis and data cleaning were made using SPSS software; further analyses used software R.
The analyses show that individual NTS types studying for educational degrees differ as to academic motivation as well as studying approaches. It turns out, among other things, that Delayers are characterized by stronger external motivation while Returners have stronger internal motivation. Second Chance Learners are more sensitive in terms of perceiving the support on the part of university. Our results thus rather support findings of previous international studies (see Hoyert & O'Dell, 2009; Christie, Tett, Cree, Hounsell, & McCune, 2008); focus on closer details shows partial specifics of the population under survey. At a general level, we view the paper to contribute by: • Presenting a description of NTS types studying for education degree in the Czech Republic and bringing it into the context of other concepts commonly used to describe university students; • Proposing a conceptual framework for thinking about the internally heterogeneous and in industrially advanced countries ever-growing group of NTS; • Proposing how this conceptual framework could be operationalized and how a battery of 10 items could be used; • Evidencing the efficiency of the proposed typology based on empirical data from the Czech Republic; • Showing that these findings may have a direct impact for further NTS research (using a finer categorization of the NTS group); • Overall, understanding NTS studying for education degrees may contribute to improving the support university provide for students and help – in an indirect way – to improving the labour market situation in the educational segment in the Czech Republic.
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